Cross a weak episode of “I Love Lucy” with a reel of “Bananas” and you get “Company Man,” a consistently silly, occasionally funny but mostly forced account of how a mild-mannered teacher from Connecticut unwittingly triggered the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Released in France ahead of the U.S. where it is scheduled to open in the fall, pic manages to be set in the early ’60s and feel exactly like it was made then. Name cast is obviously having fun, but box office prospects for this riff on the CIA’s wacky efforts to embarrass and depose Fidel Castro look as iffy as a permanent Florida home for Elian Gonzalez.
Pic begins, in the wake of the Bay of Pigs debacle, with a two-senator panel interrogating CIA officer Allen Quimp (co-scripter/co-helmer Douglas McGrath). Story unfolds in flashback as nerdy, good-natured Quimp recounts his misadventures, starting in 1959 in Greenwich, where he’s perfectly content teaching grammar and driver’s ed at a prep school.
But Quimp’s demanding wife, Daisy (Sigourney Weaver, looking fab in full suburban regalia), craves a fur coat and all the other things they can’t manage on a teacher’s salary. She and her dad badger Quimp mercilessly to get a big-bucks managerial post in Manhattan.
While in the steam bath at the Valencia Country Club with his father-in-law, Quimp avers that teaching is just a cover for his real job in the CIA. Daisy, thrilled by the news, announces she’s going to write a steamy bestseller about his adventures defending democracy and promptly spreads word of her husband’s profession.
So open is the secret that touring Russian dancer Rudolph Petrov (Ryan Phillippe) defects directly to Quimp. The CIA ends up welcoming Quimp into the fold so the agency can take credit for Petrov’s move.
Quimp is shipped to “a Third World backwater” — Cuba — where local CIA station chief Lowther (Woody Allen) says that Quimp’s predecessor, Crocker Johnson, was a lunatic who kept insisting the island was on the brink of armed revolution, and that there’s a mole, Agent X, passing secrets to the Russians. Quimp promptly unmasks Agent X, whom headquarters has sought for over two years.
Daisy then shows up just as Agent Johnson (an adrenaline-crazed John Turturro) crashes through their window with none other than Gen. Batista (Alan Cumming) in tow. Fidel Castro (Anthony LaPaglia) has just seized power, and the commie-hating Johnson wants to get to the bearded interloper post-haste (“Do you think I went into the CIA just because it was easy to spell?”). As Daisy types her juicy book, Quimp suggests less violent ploys for destroying Castro’s credibility.
Less frenetic, but also less hit-or-miss, than a ZAZ extravaganza, pic sends up the pre–Austin Powers ’60s with more comic affection than satirical bite. Marilyn Monroe, JFK and others figure in the proceedings, which often seem downright courtly and mild compared with contempo standards for madcap comedy.
Cumming, Weaver and a strutting LaPaglia employ a manic glee that’s cartoonish but called for, opposite McGrath’s milquetoast, who’s at his best when compulsively lecturing others on their grammar flaws. As the Cuba station chief, Allen, with whom McGrath co-wrote “Bullets Over Broadway,” is nicely modulated.
Lensing is mostly adequate, with bygone America succinctly captured in garb and furnishings, and Puerto Rico standing in for Cuba.